Terry O’Brien asks, “If not now, when? If not me, who?”


My name is Therese (Terry) O'Brien and I am a retired professional woman with 3 business degrees, 4 children plus 9 grandchildren...and I live in the ZONE.

I was born in Wisconsin and was a junior in high school when I first became involved in the business of advocacy. After that, every stage of my life and that of my children’s called to me for change. It may have only begun by answering crisis lines to provide resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but usually by the end of the calls those victims confided that if they hadn't called when they did, they probably would have committed suicide. After a few of those types of calls I joined others to help create laws to provide extensive help to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and to provide tougher laws against the perpetrators of such crimes.

In the 90s, my children and I moved to Spokane to be closer to extended family.  It was here that we ended up homeless, living in a tent for 3 months because landlords would not rent to a single working mother of four children! I immediately began advocating against rental discrimination.

Other opportunities that called to me included: serving as the Secretary on the Dream Store board, a local non-profit that helps children diagnosed with life threatening diseases and their families.

Because my children failed to thrive in the Spokane school district, we moved to Seattle where I began work in the leadership department of CCS of Western Washington. It was there that I began coordinating the annual Social Services Advocacy Days each year in Olympia, and was able to advocate for mental health services, education, adoption and foster care services. The move was just what my family needed, and my children flourished in ways they never would have been able to in Spokane at that point in time.

In Seattle I also served on the non-profit organization, "Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (WAVOAD). I learned so much from all the partner organizations and went on to teach other groups about disaster preparedness and to network with other regional VOADs. I served as treasurer at first, and then in a couple of years was voted in as president for 2 terms.

Health issues brought me back to Spokane, and in 2015 I settled in an apartment in Hillyard. I got permission from management to organize a craft fair. That activity was successful and residents as well as community neighbors look forward to this annual event. A couple of years later, I was asked by Spokane Regional Health District to become a Community Health Advocate for Westfall Village family apartment community and Heritage Heights senior apartment complex. When the pandemic hit and my neighbors without transportation could not get to the food banks or grocery stores, I opened a food pantry in my garage that is open to anyone living in these two apartment residences.

Throughout the years I have chosen my battles as they have relevantly affected my life and the lives of my family. There is a famous quote that has been around for a long time that I tend to live by: "If not now, when? If not me, who?" One person cannot change the world. But, working together we can change our part of it in The ZONE.